The Future of Teamwork: How to Manage Remote Employees

Recent polls indicate that the number of traditional employees who work from home has grown exponentially; about 3% of employees work from home at least part of the time. In addition, about one third of the workforce is “independent,” whether they are contractors, freelancers, or self-employed. Many of these independent workers work remotely (not in the office) at least half the time.

So what does this mean for businesses - and the executives that help run them?

Meeting the Mobile Demand

80% of employees say they would like to telecommute or work remotely 2 to 3 days a week, and many Fortune 500 companies are restructuring to reflect those demands. Smaller work spaces, a stronger employee network, and more technology that allows for mobile interconnectivity are all key to a remote workforce. But how do you manage people you don’t even see every day?

There are a few shifts in executive leadership, including the tools we use to connect and manage teams. These include new training and development, online software, and a shifting commitment to communication in a variety of styles.

1. New Training

When things change, it takes some time to figure out the kinks. Many organizations are engaging in “remote work training” for both employees and executives. While the workplace will never be totally obsolete, employees need to know how to use software that allows them to work remotely, what is ethically sound (No, you can’t sit on the couch and watch TV while you’re on company time), and how they will be evaluated on remote job performance. Leaders and executives take an active role in this, adapting it to their styles and their needs.

2. New Tools

There are virtually endless options for online project management tools, from free options to individual, customized options and applications. Teaching executives and employees to use these tools to the fullest will go a long way in eliminating confusion and decreased productivity when a company allows for remote work. Incorporating this software or application into your employee’s computers or personal devices goes a long way in ensuring constant connectivity, as well.

3. New Communication

When you can’t just call someone into your office or have a group meeting, how do you address the week’s work, your concerns, or even introduce new projects? Email is one obvious solution, but thanks to advancing technology, remote workers can connect via instant messenger (like Skype or Google Hangouts), video chat, conference calls, and even remote “login” software. Executives and managers can monitor their remote employees’ workload, check in if there’s an issue, and even hold group meetings - all remotely. Using all of these different communication channels can keep your team connected, no matter where they are.

Adapting to Change Without Setbacks

As with any shift, businesses have to adapt or they become obsolete. With new generations entering the workforce, businesses need to accommodate changing values and work styles. Remote employees, while different, can provide a number of benefits. A happier workforce, decreased overhead/operational costs, and even increased productivity can all be seen in companies that have gone “remote.”

But to avoid massive setbacks, there’s one thing that adapting businesses should keep in mind: You need to trust your remote employees.

Being highly suspicious of the work your employees do when they’re not in the office is the fastest way to dissolve any of the benefits that you might see. Establishing routine check-ins and being very clear about expectations can go a long way in weeding out people who do not work well remotely, but don’t assume that every employee will negatively exploit this new system.

Roll out remote work incentives to your highest-performing or most-trusted employees first; let them set the stage for what you expect. Then, you can move remote work to a wider base of employees. There’s no need to go remote all at once; phase it in, just like you would any massive change.

Soon, your company will be opened up to a whole new world of work and your employees will be happy to go along for the ride.